LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s been possibly the most oft-repeated answer to any question asked in the NBA bubble. And it rarely matters what the question is.
Justice for Breonna Taylor, players have said. Many, many players.
There’s been a movement afoot at the Disney campus of players using their media time to fan the heat of attention on Taylor, who was killed by three Louisville police officers who have not been charged with a crime. She has since become one of the most prominent faces in American social justice movements and Black Lives Matter, but many NBA players want to see substantive developments in her case.
“That’s what we’re here for, to continue to keep this in the back of people’s minds, and – her murderers are still free,” Clippers forward Paul George said Wednesday after a scrimmage. “Nothing was done yet and we’re going to continue to, again, keep this fight going and use our platform to stand up for those that can’t stand anymore.”
Taylor was killed in March when the officers executed a no-knock warrant in the apartment she lived in with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, after midnight when both were in bed. Walker said he believed he was a victim of a home invasion, leading to a gunfire exchange that left Taylor dead.
Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend was the target of the investigation that led to the warrant. Her family has said Taylor was alive for several minutes after being shot eight times, but no medical attention was administered – Taylor herself was an emergency medical technician. To date, two of the officers remain on the force while Brett Hankison has been fired.
Alongside George Floyd, Taylor’s death this year has added to what for many has been a frustrating toll of police violence against Black people. Donovan Mitchell, a Utah Jazz guard who played in college at Louisville, said it was frustrating to see no one held responsible for what he saw as a senseless tragedy.
“The fact that an African-American woman can’t even be safe in her own home is wild – the concept is wild,” Mitchell said. “The fact that there hasn’t been anything done about it is crazy. I think for me, looking from the outside in, it’s like, ‘What are we waiting for?’”
It’s reflective of an NBA environment that has been welcoming to players’ discourse about social justice since the Disney campus opened. The court itself is plastered with the message “Black Lives Matter,” and teams such as the Toronto Raptors have added the social justice slogan to their own backdrop. After Nuggets forward Jerami Grant became one of the first in the bubble to defer all basketball questions to speak about Taylor, the Nuggets tweeted out the video with the message: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
For some, this is not a distanced interest. Several players have recently mentioned Daniel Cameron, the attorney general of Kentucky who is Black, in recent statements, with Mitchell saying he should “do his job” and prosecute the officers. Portland’s C.J. McCollum may be the most proactive player in this regard: He said in media comments Tuesday that he had gotten on a video call with the Taylors, who told him they wanted Cameron to act.
“He’s the one who’s in position to potentially do that,” McCollum said. “We want to continue to uplift people like Breonna Taylor who are victims and haven’t received the proper justice that they are due.”
It’s not only Black players and staff within the league who are trying to bring attention to social justice. Jazz coach Quin Snyder has used the History of Racial Injustice calendar, created by the Equal Justice Initiative, to read off historical events of racial injustice and violence to his team and media daily. On Wednesday, he began his media comments by reading about the 1899 lynching of Frank Embree moments before he was set to be put on trial – a grim reminder of the long history of unequal justice of Black people in America.
On the Lakers, Frank Vogel reiterated Wednesday that the Lakers organization “fully, fully” support Black Lives Matter. That’s the slogan Alex Caruso will wear on his jersey on July 30 when official games begin, and the 26-year-old was another of the players Wednesday deferring all basketball questions to talk about Taylor.
“It’s something that we want to be steadfast in and continuing to be able to get messages out,” Caruso said. “And they’re not forgotten through the restart of the season because it’s such an important time in the world, and in a lot of our lives, to be able to create change and impact change and start getting justice for Breonna.”
Many players were concerned in June as social justice marches sprung up throughout the country following the death of George Floyd – they wondered if a return to basketball would detract from those movements, which many of them care about deeply.
In the NBA bubble, it turns out, they’ve found ways to continue to speak out and bring attention. It seems unlikely that the flow of these messages will stop soon.
“Obviously we want to win a championship and play games, but the ultimate goal is to continue to spread the message,” Mitchell said. “Because we can’t be there on the frontlines, we can’t be there right now. So we gotta find ways to go out there and continue to lead and to spread the message.”
Paul George opening statement: “Breonna Taylor, Rest In Peace. George Floyd, Rest In Peace. … there’s so many more out there … that have been brutally murdered by the hands of police. That’s all I got. That’s my message.” pic.twitter.com/b9jgmmGjoV
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) July 22, 2020
Donovan Mitchell opened his media comments today with a statement about desiring justice for Breonna Taylor. I asked him what it means that this happened in Louisville where he played college basketball: pic.twitter.com/KEgpIo0r65
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) July 23, 2020
CJ McCollum spoke with Breonna Taylor’s mother and is urging for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to arrest the cops involved in the death of the 26-year-old healthcare worker. pic.twitter.com/sQiVNoNqfH
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) July 21, 2020
Here’s Alex Caruso talking about his desire to see justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot by Louisville police in March. “It’s something we want to be steadfast in and continue to be able to get message out so it’s not forgotten in the restart of the season.” pic.twitter.com/MYcKTy1MCa
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) July 22, 2020